Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5612335273308760738"

Perhaps it began as "Decoration Day." Probably it was a memorial for the dead, like Samhain or Dios de los muertos. Now it is to remember that "freedom is not free," even though it was not won by war for the Founding Fathers but simply one's birthright. The militarism of society is a problem for another day. Today, as we honor soldiers we should also honor the dead, whoever they are. Because of them, we lead the lives we lead.

The characters are two African American Marines in the bush in Vietnam.

He was silent for a moment. Then he said "Ever'one here think it easy for me. I be this good little church boy from Mississippi with my good little church-goin' Mammy, and since I be this stupid country nigger with the big faith, I don't have no troubles. Well, it just don't work that way." He paused. Jermain said nothing. "I see my friend Williams get ate by a tiger," Cortell continued. "I see my friend Broyer get his face ripped off by a mine. What do you think I do all night, sit around thankin' Sweet Jesus? Raise my palms to sweet heaven and cry hallelujah? You know what I do? You know what I do? I lose heart." Cortell's throat suddenly tightened, strangling his words. "I lose my heart." He took a deep breath, trying to regain his composure. He exhaled and went on quietly, back in control. "I sit there and I don't seen any hope. Hope gone." Cortell was seeing his dead friends. "Then, the sky turn gray again in the east, and you know what I do? I choose all over to keep believin'. All along I know Jesus could maybe be just some fairy tale, and I could be just this one big fool. I choose anyway." He turned away from his inward images and returned to the blackness of the world around him. "It ain't no easy thing."

--Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press 2010).

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother's laps,
And here you are the mother's laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.--Walt Whitman


O Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.
Arise, O Christ, and help us,
And deliver us for thy Name's sake.


O Christ, when thou didst open thine eyes on this fair earth, the angels greeted thee as the Prince of Peace and besought us to be of good will one toward another; but thy triumph is delayed and we are weary of war.


O Christ, the very earth groans with pain as the feet of armed men march across her mangled form.


O Christ, may the Church, whom thou didst love into life, not fail thee in her witness for the things for which thou didst live and die.


O Christ, the people who are called by thy Name are separated from each other in thought and life; still our tumults, take away our vain imaginings, and grant to thy people at this time the courage to pro-claim the gospel of forgiveness, and faithfully to maintain the ministry of reconciliation.


O Christ, come to us in our sore need and save us; 0 God, plead thine own cause and give us help, for vain is the help of man.


O Christ of God, by thy birth in the stable, save us and help us;
By thy toil at the carpenter's bench, save us and help us;
By thy sinless life, save us and help us;
By thy cross and passion, save us and help us.


Then all shall join in the Lord's Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Apocalypse Not Just Now

Part of the unacknowledged problem of Harold Camping is right here in this CBS sub-headline:

May 20, 2011
How Harold Camping marketed the Rapture
Self-made prophet with $117 million radio network spreads worldwide message that the Apocalypse will begin at 6 p.m. ET Saturday
Harold Camping, as CBS goes on to point out, is "a civil engineer and self-taught Biblical sage." Of course, "self-taught" and "sage" are, or at least should be, a contradiction in terms, like "Jumbo Shrimp" or "Military Intelligence."

No, seriously.

There are no "self-taught" sages, not in the sense of learning from their own store of knowledge, and there is no wisdom that is not gathered from and approved by, the larger community, and by community I don't mean self-selected groups of persons, i.e., "followers." We know what's happened to the followers of Harold Camping, the ones who approved of his sagacity:

"I don't understand why nothing is happening. It's not a mistake. I did what I had to do. I did what the Bible said."
Poor Mr. Fitzpatrick has become the poster child for Camping's disappointed followers:

In New York's Times Square, Robert Fitzpatrick of Staten Island said he was surprised when the six o’clock hour simply came and went. He had spent his own money to put up advertising about the end of the world.

“I can’t tell you what I feel right now,” he said, surrounded by tourists. “Obviously, I haven’t understood it correctly because we’re still here.”
That community almost represents Godel's theorem of incompleteness, as their method of reasoning has produced questions their method cannot provide answers for; that is, "What is the world doesn't come to an end?" They refused to accept that as a possibility. Some of them still do:

Family Radio's special projects coordinator, Michael Garcia said he believed the delay was God's way of separating true believers from those willing to doubt what he said were clear biblical warnings.

"Maybe this had to happen for there to be a separation between those who have faith and those who don't," he said. "It's highly possible that our Lord is delaying his coming."
I'm reminded of the story in the gospel of John when Jesus addresses God and God answers from heaven, but some people hear the voice of God, and some only hear distant thunder. And I'm also reminded that "apocalypse" doesn't mean "catastrophic ending of the world in pain and turmoil," but more simply "revelation." It is the promised revelation that every eye will see, and every ear hear, that is usually anticipated in any eschaton. Surely there was an apocalypse this weekend; and just as surely, some only heard distant thunder. The difference is in my understanding, and the community that provides an explanation to me.

When "I" haven't understood "it" correctly, it is the community that supplies the answer and even surrounds one with the comfort. You can understand incorrectly and make a mistake in your life choice; you can understand incorrectly and make a mistake in your marriage choice; you can understand incorrectly in so many ways, and there are no bootstraps by which you can lift yourself out of that problem you have created. There is only the community. There is only the rest of the world.

"World," of course, has taken on a new connotation in modern times. "World" now means the entire community of humanity dwelling on all the continents; but we can no more imagine that community than we can literally imagine the 19 million people who live in New York City. We can't even imagine the crowd they would make could they assemble in one place; it's nothing more than a number, one we know is large because we compare to other, equally abstract, numbers. We no more live in the "world" today than our ancestors did, than did the people of Jesus' time. We live in a place, and we imagine the world as some extension of what we know. The world is too big, too vast, to incomprehensible at once, to be a community for anyone. But community is not limited to just the people we know, either.

"Community" cannot be a wholly self-selected group, although that principle has become one of the bedrocks of Protestantism. The revelation is never known to an individual; the revelation is known to all, and the community needs skeptics just as it needs doubting Thomases, just as it needs Peters to balance Pauls. Mr. Camping is "bewildered" and "mystified" now because he is a self-taught Biblical interpreter who draws inspiration from his own predilections, not from the discipline and decisions of a community. He is a community of one, and only those who think as he does have any importance for him. That sounds to some like the very definition of a religious community but it isn't; it isn't at all.

Community is more than the people you know, but less than the world. It is the people you can reasonably be in relationship to, but that doesn't have to be just the people you can possibly know. Christians speak of "the Church" and can mean anything from the body judicatory that ordains or authorizes priests, pastors, sacraments, and doctrines, to the "clouds of witness" which are believers in time and across both time and space. What the community cannot be is a group cut off from the presence and the knowledge of that larger group. It cannot be a self-selected body convinced of the rightness of its cause because it likes that cause. That's like building a tent with only one main pole. No matter how tall the pole, or how sturdy, it cannot hold up a tent large enough to include all the people who need to be inside it. And "need" is a crucial aspect of community; a community must not only be the people who want to be there, it must be the people who need to be there. Not necessarily for their sake, but for the sake of the community. The community needs people just as people need a community.

I was watching yet another filmed version of "Murder on the Orient Express" as I worked on this, and in this version Poirot, upon discovering the identities of the murderers, tells them that the judge and jury cannot appoint themselves. By the same token, neither can the religious leader. But that's precisely what Harold Camping did. And apparently he is figuring out there are consequences to being self-appointed:

Before May 21, many believers quit their jobs, left their families and gave their savings to Family Radio, which then sent out caravans and put up billboards announcing the end. Evans, the Family Radio board member, says now that the date has passed, all they can do is pick up and move on.

"I don't know what the future holds for Family Radio or for any of us," he says. "We just have to pray that God will be merciful."

Evans says he hopes the organization will repay people who gave their money to the cause. But at this point he can't guarantee it.
There is something bitterly ironic about hoping for God's mercy for yourself after expecting God's cosmic wrath being visited on everyone else. But then there is an appalling strangeness to the mercy of God. That's another consequence of a self-appointed community: you set yourself apart from everyone else and declare your group protected and privileged over all others, if only because it is "yours." Which is yet another warning against doing so. We do not know God in a vacuum, nor in a self-contained unit of our own making. We know God in the world. The sad followers of Harold Camping learned that lesson this weekend; at least, I hope and pray they did.

And the world is not laughing with them; it is laughing beside them.

P.S. Oh, and now it's October 21, 2011 for the "end." See you then.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Weekend Update

I am shamelessly stealing this from Dependable Renegade, who also took it from somewhere else.

Anyway, after Saturday it won't matter, eh?

Streams in the Food Deserts

When Stephen Hawking lost his ability to talk he was given back his voice by another person. It is not our own dead bodies that raise us from the dead.--Mad Priest
Not the first way I'd intended to use the Mad Priest's words, but then I heard this on the radio, and had to look it up. It is perfectly appalling:

Houston is among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, and yet the area has fewer supermarkets per capita than most of the nation’s large metropolitan areas. When measured against the national rate of per capita supermarkets, the Greater Houston area has 185 too few. The shortage of supermarkets in Houston is representative of a statewide problem. In fact, Texas has the lowest number of supermarkets per capita of any state in the country.
Look at that last sentence again, and think about it. Texas loves to tout the virtues of the free market. But obviously that market works only for people with enough money to live near a supermarket that sells fresh food. Of course, this is not "fresh" news, and the City of Houston is working to do something about it (which is why it was in the news again). As the report today noted: those of us who can drive to the supermarket think nothing of what food is available to us; but those of us who can't, end up eating fast food, which is not only more expensive, but less nutritious as well. But again, don't take my word for it:

The lack of access to affordable and nutritious food has a negative impact on the health of children and families in Houston and across Texas. Today, nearly two-thirds of Texans are overweight or obese. There is strong and consistent evidence that people who live in communities without a supermarket suffer from disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related health problems. In contrast, when people live in a community with a supermarket, they tend to eat more servings of fruits and vegetables and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
There are 16 food deserts in the City of Houston alone. To put that in some perspective, in the U.S. there is one supermarket for every 8600 people, on average. In Houston, there is one supermarket for ever 12000 people. Nor is the distribution equal: I live within easy driving (or even walking, even in Houston, where no one walks!) distance of 5 large grocery stores, all offering fresh foods and meats. But other people in Houston only live near fast food outlets and stores where they can get beer and milk, and everything else edible is largely processed and packaged for a very long shelf life. The very system that offers me so many choices and options, is also the system that denies people in 16 communities (and how large are those?) those very same options.

As the Mad Priest reminds us, no one lifts himself up by his own bootstraps. Our own bodies do not raise us from the dead. And food deserts are not natural creations, like swamps or bayous or wetlands (all of which Houston has in abundance); they are entirely human-made. We cannot expect the people living in them to change them. And we must rely on something besides blind faith in the market as a strong green god, sullen, untamed, intractable, and start realizing it is entirely of our own creation, and we alone are responsible for it, and for what it does to others. Indeed, we have to recognize that our system is set up to provide us with benefits from the suffering of others. And participating blindly in that system, at the very least, has got to come to an end.

"Come for water, all who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come, buy grain and eat;
come, buy wine and milk, not for money, not for a price.
Why spend your money for what is not food
your earnings on what fails to satisfy?
Listen to me and you will fare well,
you will enjoy the fat of the land. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

What would it be like to make that our purpose, our goal, our reality? Too utopian? Or not utopian enough?

"It is not our own dead bodies that raise us from the dead."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vanity of Vanities!

Stephen Hawking says there is no heaven. Which leaves me wondering: what if Stephen Hawking said the verities of love were a myth? What if Stephen Hawking said beauty is not truth, and truth is not beauty, and that is not all ye know or need to know? What if Stephen Hawking had opined on the death of Osama bin Laden, or the state of the world economy, or even British cricket? Would anybody care?

So why do we care when Stephen Hawking trots out an old chestnut about heaven=myth, and adds to it the equally old chestnut that when you die, that's it? I mean, why does this even make the news? Because Stephen Hawking said it? But what does he know about matters theological?

He may be as qualified as I am to speak on matters of the heart, but would anyone listen if he opined that love was a myth, and it was all a matter of pheromones and hormones and neurons firing? Would anyone give such statements any real attention?

And when he trots out this old canard:

In an interview published Monday in The Guardian newspaper, the 69-year-old says the human brain is a like a computer that will stop working when its components fail.

He says: "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
I first want to question his analogy. A computer? Really? Why isn't it like a pocket watch? Or an adding machine? Or simply a receptor for sensory impressions? All three analogies have been offered at one time or another (the last is David Hume's, and my personal favorite. I always imagine an empty room with a wall of TV screens presenting images no one is there to look at. If, as Hume said, the self is just an illusion created from all that sensory input, who is deciphering the sensory input and remembering it? It would seem a better analogy for Mr. Hawking, if he wants to be such an absolute empiricist). Why is the computer the superior comparison?

But more directly, I'd point Mr. Hawking to Socrates' discussion of the soul in the Phaedo. Socrates made an argument for the existence of the soul so compelling it persists to this day; which is not to say, however, that Socrates was right. On the other hand, if you are going to dismiss Socrates as just another person "afraid of the dark," I am going to dismiss your argument out of hand, too. And I'm going to ask myself: "Why should I care what you think on this subject?"

So why do we care? Why do we worship at the shrine of "science" so much that Stephen Hawking can wander freely into other fields and determine their worth and merit based on his assumptions and, frankly, ignorance. I don't know what concept of "heaven" Mr. Hawking has, but it's a fairly elementary one. And there is some kind of supreme arrogance in dismissing several millenia of human thought and experience with the statement "I don't agree (and therefor you are all fools!)." It was an acceptable enough position in 19th century Europe, when educated white males convinced themselves they were superior to people younger than them (children) and non-males, and all persons of other "races," a concept they came up with to conveniently classify the bulk of the world as inferior. Is Mr. Hawking really so arrogant as to presume he knows better and more fully than all of humankind across history? It is indeed possible that he does. But we usually call such people "cranks." We don't usually honor them with respect for and publication of their every utterance.

So why do we publish the opinions of Stephen Hawking as if they matter? Because he's so much more intelligent than we are? Anyone who dismisses Socrates without even a mention, and implicitly defines him as a child afraid of the dark, doesn't strike me as more intelligent than I am. Certainly he understands physics better than I do, but since when did physics become the bedrock and benchmark of all human knowledge?

But here is the central problem: there are arguments for, and there are arguments against. The latter don't establish a proposition, so much as try to defeat one. Kierkegaard understood this about the "Socratic method." It was, he realized, merely the application of irony to all situations, the application of the "con" argument, without any establishing "pro" to justify it. It is, as Rabbi Hirschfield points out, not the same thing to deny something, as it is to prove something doesn't exist. Arguments pro, as Kierkegaard pointed out, are very complex, and sometimes impossible, while arguments con are simple and easy to construct. But they don't actually construct anything.

Irony...has no purpose, it's purpose is immanent in itself, a metaphysical purpose. The purpose is none other than irony itself. When an ironist exhibits himself as other than he actually is, it might seem that his purpose were to induce others to believe this. His actual purpose, however, is merely to feel free, and he is through irony....

With doubt the subject constantly seeks to penetrate the object, and his misfortune consists in the fact that the object constantly eludes him. With irony, on the other hand, the subject is always seeking to get outside the object and this he attains by becoming conscious at every moment that the object has no reality. With doubt the subject is witness to a war of conquest in which every phenomenon is destroyed, because the essence always resides behind the phenomenon. But with irony the subject constantly retires from the field and proceeds to talk every phenomenon out of its reality in order to save himself, that is, in order to preserve himself in his negative independence of everything....

For irony everything becomes nothingness, but nothingness may be taken in several ways. The speculative nothingness is that which at every moment is vanishing for concretion, since it is itself the demand for the concrete...The mystical nothingness is a nothingness for representation, a nothingness which yet is as full of content as the silence of the night is eloquent for one who has ears to hear. Finally, the ironic nothingness is that deathly stillness in which irony returns to 'haunt and jest' (this last word taken wholly ambiguously.)(Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, tr. Lee M. Capel (Bloomington, Indiana; Indiana University Press 1968, 273-75)
Now if Mr. Hawking wants to take that on, we can have a discussion. But so long as he wants to throw stones at other people who don't think like he does, then, in the words of that eminent 20th century philosopher Nigel Molesworth: "I diskard him."

Update: Rabbi Hirschfield was on BBC's "World Have Your Say" and acquitted himself very well. I'll admit to more than a little pleasure at listening to a person of faith discuss matters religious with a humanist, and refusing to use any of the platitudes the humanist expected to hear.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Judgment at Erewhon

I find most of the discussion of torture revolves around fictions, be it the fiction that "torture works" or the fiction that "torture can be morally justified under certain circumstances." So, in the spirit of fighting fiction with fiction, I bring you the speech of Spencer Tracy in "Judgment at Nuremberg:"

Judge Haywood: The trial conducted before this Tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than ten thousand pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded.

Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.

Heir Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this. The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the Tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions, men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men, men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees, the purpose of which was the extermination of humans beings, men who in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws -- illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime -- is guilty.

Heir Rolfe further asserts that the defendant, Janning, was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of this country. There is truth in this also. Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning's record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary -- even able and extraordinary -- men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the "protection of country" -- of "survival." A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient -- to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is "survival as what?" A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

And yes, isn't it interesting that we could conduct that trial without fear or terror, yet the trial of even one detainee at Guantanamo Bay is too grave a threat to our nation's survival. Tell me again what we stand for?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Torture Does Not Work

Josh Marshall, who should know better:

As a more general matter it's important to recognize that torture could easily have produced the key information. It just seems not to have in this case. You can be doctrinaire in opposing torture without being doctrinaire in assuming that it can't produce any good intelligence, which would be foolish.
This is the general assumption of people who've never made their living asking questions of people; or perhaps they imagine the journalistic practice of shouting questions at politicians is the equivalent of torture, that "grilling" a reluctant public figure is little different from waterboarding a captive.

First, let me remind everyone that the legal definition of torture makes no mention of interrogation. Torture is inflicting pain on someone; in the legal definition, doing so to a person under your custody or control, when you act under color of law. The connection between torture and confession is entirely specious.

Think about it: did the teacher who berated you, yelled at you, embarrassed you in class, elicit more information from you than the teacher you respected, and who respected you? Any lawyer who thinks his cross-examination will work best by intimidating the witness is a fool. Any interrogator who thinks information is best beaten out of a prisoner is a sadist, unfit to be in the same room with a prisoner. But don't take my word for it; consider the Congressional testimony of FBI agent Ali Soufani:

From my experience – and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence– I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the "enhanced interrogation techniques," a position shared by many professional operatives, including the CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.

These techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda. (This is aside from the important additional considerations that they are un-American and harmful to our reputation and cause.)
And he has evidence (something JMM lacks) to back him up:

During his capture Abu Zubaydah had been injured. After seeing the extent of his injuries, the CIA medical team supporting us decided they were not equipped to treat him and we had to take him to a hospital or he would die. At the hospital, we continued our questioning as much as possible, while taking into account his medical condition and the need to know all information he might have on existing threats.

We were once again very successful and elicited information regarding the role of KSM as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and lots of other information that remains classified. (It is important to remember that before this we had no idea of KSM's role in 9/11 or his importance in the al Qaeda leadership structure.) All this happened before the CTC team arrived.

A few days after we started questioning Abu Zubaydah, the CTC interrogation team finally arrived from DC with a contractor who was instructing them on how they should conduct the interrogations, and we were removed. Immediately, on the instructions of the contractor, harsh techniques were introduced, starting with nudity. (The harsher techniques mentioned in the memos were not introduced or even discussed at this point.)

The new techniques did not produce results as Abu Zubaydah shut down and stopped talking. At that time nudity and low-level sleep deprivation (between 24 and 48 hours) was being used. After a few days of getting no information, and after repeated inquiries from DC asking why all of sudden no information was being transmitted (when before there had been a steady stream), we again were given control of the interrogation.

We then returned to using the Informed Interrogation Approach. Within a few hours, Abu Zubaydah again started talking and gave us important actionable intelligence.

This included the details of Jose Padilla, the so-called "dirty bomber." To remind you of how important this information was viewed at the time, the then-Attorney General, John Ashcroft, held a press conference from Moscow to discuss the news. Other important actionable intelligence was also gained that remains classified.

After a few days, the contractor attempted to once again try his untested theory and he started to re-implementing the harsh techniques. He moved this time further along the force continuum, introducing loud noise and then temperature manipulation.

Throughout this time, my fellow FBI agent and I, along with a top CIA interrogator who was working with us, protested, but we were overruled. I should also note that another colleague, an operational psychologist for the CIA, had left the location because he objected to what was being done.

Again, however, the technique wasn't working and Abu Zubaydah wasn't revealing any information, so we were once again brought back in to interrogate him. We found it harder to reengage him this time, because of how the techniques had affected him, but eventually, we succeeded, and he re-engaged again.

Once again the contractor insisted on stepping up the notches of his experiment, and this time he requested the authorization to place Abu Zubaydah in a confinement box, as the next stage in the force continuum. While everything I saw to this point were nowhere near the severity later listed in the memos, the evolution of the contractor's theory, along with what I had seen till then, struck me as "borderline torture."

As the Department of Justice IG report released last year states, I protested to my superiors in the FBI and refused to be a part of what was happening. The Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, a man I deeply respect, agreed passing the message that "we don't do that," and I was pulled out.

As you can see from this timeline, many of the claims made in the memos about the success of the enhanced techniques are inaccurate. For example, it is untrue to claim Abu Zubaydah wasn't cooperating before August 1, 2002. The truth is that we got actionable intelligence from him in the first hour of interrogating him.
To put it plainly and simply: torture works in the movies, and on TeeVee, because a writer can write it that way. In real life? Not so much.

Not at all, in fact. Torture works only to do what it is meant to do: inflict severe pain on another human being, who can't escape the pain, or the torturer. To correct Mr. Marshall, the only thing foolish on this topic is to assume torture does anything else.

Monday, May 02, 2011


I wasn't going to do this, at all; comment on the death of Osama bin Laden, I mean. But my work here is largely reactive, and when I read this:

So, let us mute our celebrations. Let any satisfaction be grim and grounded in the foundation of justice for all who have suffered at bin Laden's bloody hands. And also justice for crimes against God -- for using God as an instrument of terror and and promoting distrust between peoples of different religions and nations. Let us put bin Laden's body in the ground, and in doing so bury his disastrous and blasphemous religious legacy.

Ultimately, judgment is not ours to make. But I believe in a just God and I believe that Osama Bin Laden, for all the talk of rewards in heaven, will not be enjoying his meeting with the God of Creation.
And then this:

Judaism stands alone as a world religion in its commandment to hate evil. Exhortations to hate all manner of evil abound in the Bible and God declares His detestation of those who visit cruelty on His children. Psalm 97 is emphatic: "You who love G-d must hate evil." Proverbs 8 declares, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Amos 5 demands, "Hate the evil and love the good." And Isaiah 5 warns, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil." And concerning the wicked King David declares unequivocally, "I have hated them with a perfect hatred. They are become enemies to me." (Psalm 139) Hatred is a valid emotion, the appropriate moral response, to the human encounter with inhuman cruelty. Mass murderers most elicit our deepest hatred and contempt.

On the other hand, the Bible also says that we are not to celebrate our enemy's demise. We do not dance over the body of a murderer like Osama bin Laden. Indeed, at the Passover Seder we Jews, upon mentioning the Ten Plagues, poor wine out of our glasses ten separate times to demonstrate that we will not raise a glass to the suffering of the Egyptians, even though they were engaged in genocide. Likewise, after the Red Sea split and drowned the Egyptians, Moses and the Jewish people sang 'The Song of the Sea.' Yet, the Talmud says that G-d himself rebuked the Israelites: 'My creatures are drowning in the sea, yet you have now decided to sing about it?'
First, I don't equate death with justice. An eye for an eye not only leaves the whole world blind, it is not even remotely "justice." But there are other reasons I'm neither dancing in the streets nor feeling any sense of relief at this news:

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him. And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me; all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; as therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which, piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell, that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him, that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? But who takes off his eye from a comet, when that breaks out? who bends not his ear to any bell, which upon any occasion rings? But who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.
If no human is an island, then even the death of bin Laden diminishes me. Perhaps it would have been better had he never been born, but who among us can say the same is not true for us? Perhaps my sins outweigh my virtues? How am I to be sure?

I heard bin Laden denounced as a mass murderer today, and I thought about the distinction between a mass murderer and a head of state: some are equally guilty of as many deaths, if not more, yet they are justified. Some, like Qadaffi, are not. But then, who is guilty, and who is innocent, and whose life is worthy of existence, and who is only worthy of death? It is better that mass murderers had never been born, but who are the mass murderers? Definitions seem to differ.

Perhaps Donne would say bin Laden, not being "ingraffed" into the church catholic and universal, was not part of the main for whom the bell tolls. That is too fine a distinction for me. If I'm going to mourn the deaths of people on 9/11, I'm going to regret the celebration of the death of anyone involved in conducting that crime, too. Death is not justice, whether carried out by the state, or by an evil individual intent on creating his own pan-national state. Which brings me back to the quote I started with, and would counter with another quote, from "V" in the movie of the same name: "Ideas," he told his captive Natalie Portman, "are bulletproof."

And the fact is, they are. Even bad ideas; perhaps especially bad ideas. I would like to be able to bury bin Laden's disastrous and blasphemous religious legacy. But the only way to do that is to hold to my religious legacy. I cannot defeat ideas. I cannot bury ideas. I cannot kill ideas. I can only be as true to my beliefs as possible. And those beliefs don't allow me to take satisfaction in anyone's death.